The Yunnan-Vietnam Railway was the first railway to enter Yunnan and for a long time was the only modern road linking Yunnan to the outside world. In a series of treaties following the Sino-French War in the late 19th century, France was granted the privilege of building a railway in Yunnan, and in 1901 the Indochina Railway Company was established, which was to become the Yunnan-Vietnam Railway Company thereafter. In 1902, the route of the Yunnan-Vietnam Railway within Yunnan was determined to be the eastern scheme, i.e. a standard metre-gauge line, entering via the Yunnan Hekou at an altitude of 74 metres, and ending up in Yunnan-fou (Kunming) at 1890 metres above sea level. In 1903, the construction of the Yunnan section of the Yunnan-Yue railway began and was completed eight years later, in 1910. On 31 January 1910, the first train, drawn by a locomotive named France, arrived in Yunnan province. Men and women, rich and poor, flocked to the streets to see this monster of steel as never seen before. The arrival of the train was a sensation, but perhaps more significant than people realised at the time. From this moment on, Yunnan was no longer a remote south-western mountain frontier inaccessible to the Empire, but a port hinterland easily accessible by sea to rail. Yunnan was henceforth connected by rail - no longer by horse gang - to the Vietnamese port of Haiphong. Apart from a 17-year interruption (1940-1957) due to the demolition of parts of the line in World War II, the Yunnan-Vietnam Railway was the only railway linking Yunnan to the outside world until the 1960s, when the Guiyang-Kunming Railway was opened in late 1960s.
This railway to the sea profoundly influenced the history of Yunnan in the twentieth century, even to the extent that it gave birth to Yunnan's nation-state identity and proletarian revolution. Just as importantly, with the completion of the Yunnan-Vietnam Railway, it quickly became the main access point to the outside world and thus revolutionised the perception of time and space and the physical experience of travelling in Yunnan. Today, the Yunnan-Vietnam Railway has been with the land for more than 110 years, influencing each other in a way that has shaped Yunnan's history and become a part of the latter. I grew up living near this railway. In primary school, my father told me that the other end of this highland railway was a sea, and the imagery of the sea and the railway has been bound together ever since.
This is an art project about the Yunnan-Vietnam railway and the beginning of a series of road and walking related projects for me. It consists of a series of walks, writing and video works. It is about the colonised history of two Asian countries, about the modernisation of the mountains of South East Asia, but also about my own childhood memories, my geographical imagination and my connection to my hometown and to this land.